The delightfully demented denizens of Grey Matter Press are doing a blog tour of the authors featured in their kick-ass anthology, Equilibrium Overturned. Geoff’s dark story “The Collected Sylvia: Volumes 1 to 1388” appears in the mighty tome, and he has written a brief essay on the genesis of the story that he hopes will delight and disturb you. Here is his essay:
In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlowe travels up the Congo River, a territory alien to the so-called civilized world he knows back in London, to bring back Kurtz, a trader who has cut all ties with the company to which he was supposed to supply ivory. In the steaming heart of the jungle, Marlowe finds Kurtz, and this is how he describes him: “He struggled with himself, too. I saw it — I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.”
After spending so long isolated in an alien country, entirely removed from the society that had shaped his morals, Kurtz gave in to his base lusts and whims, and became a monster. The protagonist of my story “The Collected Sylvia: Volumes 1 to 1388”, which appears in the fantastic Equilibrium Overturn anthology, owes a small debt to Kurtz. Dorian also becomes isolated on an alien world, entirely cut off from civilization, and once there, he too becomes a monster.
It’s no surprise that I turned to Heart of Darkness for inspiration. I first read Conrad’s masterpiece at the ripe age of fourteen. Puberty was in the process of rebuilding my body, injecting me with mind-altering hormones, and filling me with all manner of new lusts and obsessions. In Heart of Darkness, I met a man who’d indulged all those forbidden lusts and he’d become a dark god as a reward for his transgressions. I felt that same dark god within me.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the darkness within is no god; it is the wild, lust-filled primate living within us all. The evil of “The Collected Sylvia” isn’t the evil of the mass murderer, or the evil of the concentration camp commandant. It is a smaller, more personal evil. The evil of the male ape who kills a female’s nursing infant so that he might mate with her. The evil of a brutal father who terrifies his family with constant abuse and isolation. The evil of the headmaster who whips his students and tells himself he does it for their good. The evil of the Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. The evil of the small tyrant, given a sliver of power and no oversight, who then uses that power to satisfy their darkest urges. Dorian tells himself that the crimes he commits don’t matter. He dehumanizes his victims, he tells himself they aren’t real, and he tells himself he is doing it all for a greater good. These lies lead him further from decency, and closer to the twisted ape within himself that hoots: “Me, me, me. Only me. No one else.”
Yet “The Collected Sylvia” isn’t all darkness, nor is Conrad’s book, nor is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. McMurphy resists Nurse Ratched, and even though he pays the penultimate price for his struggles, his sacrifice isn’t in vain; he liberates the other members of the mental institution. Marlowe returns to the civilized world after his encounter with Kurtz in the jungles of Africa. He is marked by his journey, certainly, but he survives. In my story, it is Sylvia who gives us hope. The many versions of Sylvia we meet throughout the story resist the darkness Dorian embraces. They struggle against his mad indulgence, until their struggle brings them to a final conflict.
In the end, even after such conflict, the darkness remains. The wild, vicious ape living within us will never go away. Sometimes it can be tamed, but sometimes, like with Kurtz and Dorian, the beast devours the human. Sometimes the ape does become a dark god.
“But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad.”